One of the big reasons I liked moving to a WordPress blog instead of my own website is that I feel less sense of expectations here. I pretty much declared, from the outset, that I’d be using this for book and movie reviews, and not really anything else. And that works for me. I’m a generally private person, in a lot of ways. Part of that is just my personality – I’ve never enjoyed opening up about things, never enjoyed speaking my mind more than I had to. I’m all about the indirect truth, if we’re being honest, or letting my actions speak for me instead of my words – which, honestly, is ironic, given my love of the written word and the fact that I generally think I express myself well in my writing. And part of that privacy comes back to life as a teacher; I think, in many ways, teaching is a performance, and any performer has to draw a line between their public self and their private self, and I long ago realized that with a name like mine, the Internet version of that self would be pretty much public to anyone who wanted to find it.
All of which is to say that I don’t feel the need to write personal blogs any more. And yet, sometimes the act of writing is therapeutic, and jesus, am I in need of some therapy these days. So I’m going to write here about myself, and the election, and probably my emotional state these days. And it’s going to be long, and it’s going to be about politics, and I may swear a bit. So, you know, if none of that interests you, that’s cool – I don’t blame you. I’ve got a book review I need to write for Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars, and it’ll be up when I get to feeling more into it, and this blog will be back to normal traffic.
But for now, if you’re with me, let me tell you some things.
I’ve suffered from depression for…gosh, about 20 years now. At least, that’s when I went on medication for it. (Paxil, if you’re interested.) This isn’t something I entirely keep secret; I mean, I don’t exactly advertise (and I may be shooting myself in the foot by posting this, in terms of pre-existing conditions if I ever need new insurance), but I’ve told people if we’ve been on the subject of depression. I think it’s good for people to know that other people can survive it, especially teenagers; I’ve told this to students over the years who’ve been going through hard times and considering whether to get therapy and/or medication.
But I mainly start this story with this admission to help you understand my mental state. No, depression isn’t like being “sad”. It doesn’t really always follow your life; sometimes, you just get into a dark place, and you don’t even know why, and it’s infuriating. And yet, there’s also no denying that your depression is influenced by your life around you. My depression has been undeniably “better” since marrying my incredible wife and having my two children. That doesn’t mean it’s cured; as Maria would no doubt tell you, I still have my dark times, my frustration outbursts, my times when everything sucks and I have no idea why. But it helps having a wonderful family, a wife who spoils me, and my two insane and wondrous children.
That also means, though, that when life is bad, your depression is harder to fight off. It got real bad for me a couple of jobs back, when I was basically run out of a school I really liked because I (and a few other teachers) dared to sponsor a gay student organization in the South. (It gets hard to go to work when a lot of the staff hates you, and you know it, so you hide from your few friends so they don’t get tainted by their association with you.) It got bad at my last job, when I was starting to question whether teaching was worth continuing with, when I felt like the profession I loved was turning into a test proctoring job with kids who didn’t care.
And man, has my depression had a field day with this election.
It’s not the endless campaigning, mind you; that’s exhausting and irritating, but not depressing. No, what made this campaign so depressing was the noxious, hateful, vicious rhetoric unleashed by the Trump campaign.
(Let me pause here to explain things: Fuck no, I didn’t vote for that misogynistic, sexist, racist, xenophobic, fascist orange paraquat. I even kinda liked Hillary Clinton; she wasn’t a perfect candidate by any means, but she wasn’t the nightmare made flesh that she was portrayed as, and she was sure as shit going to be better for the country than the guy who watched A Face in the Crowd and said, “yeah, that seems like the right ticket.”
And I know some Trump voters, and they’ll tell me that they’re not racists/xenophobes/sexists/etc. And they’re not. But you know what? They also gave Trump’s racism/xenophobia/sexism/etc. their tacit support. They would tell you, “sure, he says awful things about Muslims/gays/hispanics/women, but I’m sure someone will tone him down.” And they could say that, because when you’re white and straight, you’re playing through the world on easy mode, and none of that shit applies to you. So if it does all happen, well, sucks for them, but at least you don’t have to worry about it. So no, you may not be racist, you may not hate women, you may not despise immigrants or support pumping electricity through gay teenagers until they convert.
But you voted for a man who does. Own it.)
Worse than Trump’s rhetoric, though, was the reaction. They say that at the heart of every cynic – which I undeniably am – beats the heart of a wounded optimist. And that’s true. Because I like to think that the world is getting better, and over the past decade, it has been improving in so many ways. It’s not perfect, but we were making progress. And every time I would see people screaming “Trump will deport you, wetbacks!”, hurling abuse at women in burqas, creating mock lynchings, or the like, it made me realize that maybe we’re not as good as we thought. And not only is that fucking disheartening, it makes it real hard to look at your children and think that they’ll be safe.
And so, let me be honest: my depression has been in high gear for about the last month or two. It has fed off of the noxiousness, the awfulness I’ve seen on the news, the alt-right trolls, the spewing of vitriol, the tacit “looking the other way” that so many have done. And you can say, well, Josh, none of that affects you – turn it off. And I know I should…but I can’t. I feel compelled to know what’s going on, and I can’t look away, and I feel like someone needs to see it, to acknowledge what others are going through. Because, look, I’m pretty spoiled as a straight white male…but as a teacher, let me be all sappy, and tell you that I feel some love for pretty much every kid who’s ever come through my classroom, and I have a lot of kids because of that, and they’re of every orientation, every ethnicity, and I’m scared for them.
But, I thought, the election will be over soon, and he’ll lose, and we can go back to ignoring him like sane people do to Alex Jones, and Michael Savage, and the like.
And then came Tuesday night.
In hindsight, we should have seen it coming, of course. I’m not even talking about the polls at this point; I’m just talking about what a fucking nightmare 2016 has been. We joked earlier in the year that maybe Bowie and Prince didn’t die, and instead just went back to their home planets; now, I’m wondering if they didn’t just get out while the getting was good, and couldn’t warn us before they left.
Whatever the case, you could feel the shock set in across the internet, and in our house. It wasn’t just that a Republican won, as so many have argued online. I remember George W. winning in 2004, and it wasn’t this feeling. I was disappointed, but not like this. No, it was because we thought, as a country, that we were better than this. That we would look at a man who played off of fears, off of our worst instincts, who offered no policies, only insults, and that we would take the high road.
But we were wrong, apparently. And as Trump’s win became clearer, you could see the glee on the internet. Jewish writers started getting flooded with anti-semitic tweets and insults. Nazi symbols got sprayed on walls. And if you haven’t seen stories about some of the emboldened racists acting out, you’re not fucking looking. You’re not seeing the woman in a hijab who talked about how a truck pulled up to her and the man inside told her that he can’t wait until Trump says it’s okay to rape them and then deport them back to wherever they came from. You’re not hearing the guys who gleefully walk into a club and say “Pussy grabbing is okay now!” You’re not seeing women who have been sexually assaulted watch a man who assaulted women be given the benefit of the doubt and rewarded for it while a woman is blamed for her husband’s infidelities. You’re not seeing the gay men give pictures of where they’ve had things thrown at them in the street and say “You’re next, faggots! Trump’s coming for you soon.”
You’re not hearing my children come home and talk about how one of their classmates is walking around the playground with a stick and playing “hit the Mexicans” and yelling “send them back.”
You’re not hearing the students in my senior English class make uncertain jokes about how one of their classmates, an immigrant, might not be able to finish the year if she gets deported.
Fucking funny, right? What a grand fucking joke this all is.
So, yeah. I’ve been really, really depressed over the past few days. It’s not that we lost; it’s that the vileness, the hatred that I saw won. And that it feels emboldened, and that it’s been given the okay to do what it wants. And I don’t need to hear that not every Trump supporter is like that. I don’t give a shit. The fact is, if you voted for him, you turned a blind eye to this. And I know we’re supposed to say that politics shouldn’t separate friendships, and they don’t – my wife and I have cancelled each other out every year in elections until this year. But kindness and respect for human beings are a dealbreaker, and if you can’t see what you’re unleashing, then take a fucking look around.
But I can’t live this way – not this depressed. And one “advantage” of teaching is that you have to put on a good front – you can’t wear your depression, your bad day, in front of your students. (Though I did hear one of my seniors commenting yesterday that “man, all my teachers are really down today.”) And so I’ve been trying to be in a good mood, trying to be my usual energetic, overeager self that I am in the classroom. And it’s helped.
But more than that, I keep coming back to a tweet I saw Tuesday night from Justin McElroy. He said this: “I’m gonna wake up tomorrow and keep trying to be good and so are you and no one gets to vote on that.”
And I’m trying to live that right now. I’m trying to be a force for good for my students, and remind them that not everyone is Trump.I’m trying to actually teach my students, while I’m teaching literature, about humanity and decency and respect. I’m trying to remind them that respect and kindness matter, and that everyone deserves it, and that they sometimes need to understand what it’s like to walk around in someone else’s shoes and see the world as they see it. I’m trying to basically be a good person, and stand up for people, and teach my children how to be good to others, and to be kind, and to realize that everyone is a fucking human being, no matter what – no matter who they love, where they’re from, or what they look like. And in general, I’m trying not to give up hope on this world.
My friend Nancy on Facebook said she’s basically running her Facebook now like “an Underground Railroad of love,” and I’m all about this idea. So go be a good person for a while. Reach out to someone in need. Find a way to compliment someone you disagree with. Remind yourself that we’re all in this together. And when people tell you that they’re going through hard times, that they’re not being treated fairly…maybe listen to them a little, okay?
At the very end of the movie Se7en, Morgan Freeman says this: “Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ‘The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.”
I’m about with him right now. I’m hoping to agree with Hemingway along the way, but for now, I’m all about the fact that I refuse to give in to the tidal wave of hatred and misogyny I see, and to try to keep my hopes up. It’s hard, but I’m going to try.
Wish me luck.